Photo by Steve Carrillo

The LA Galaxy preach defense ahead of Cali-Clasico with the Earthquakes

The LA Galaxy will face a familiar foe on Friday night at StubHub Center (8 p.m.; UniMas) when they take on the San Jose Earthquakes in the first and only Cali-Clasico in SoCal in 2018.

The two clubs will be meeting for the 83rd time in the league’s history (regular season) with the Galaxy holding a 30-22-14 advantage. Their last meeting was a 3-0 win by the Earthquakes in Carson on July 1 of last year where Valeri Qazaishuili, Marco Ureña, and Chris Wondolowski all scored against the Galaxy while also winning the season series with 2 wins and 1 loss.

The Galaxy (4-6-1) enter the match after a 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact and a three-game road trip that ended with two losses and one win. The club has 13 points from 11 games and sits just two points out of a playoff position in seventh place in the Western Conference.

The Earthquakes (2-6-3) will travel south coming off a 3-1 home defeat to visiting DC United last weekend. They are 1-3-2 on the road in 2018 and sit in 10th place in the conference with just nine points while sitting six points outside of the final playoff spot.

At StubHub Center, the Galaxy will be looking to improve on their 2-3-0 record. With players and coaches both pushing to make their home field more of a place to be feared.

“Anytime you play at home you need to pick up points,” former Earthquakes and current Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham explained after training. “And you can’t do that without your home being a fortress and having that confidence at home. When you step on the field at home you’re probably going to win, and we’re working to get that and we’re looking forward to that.”

“At home, it should be a little easier for you,” Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid relayed. “You also want to reward your fans.

“The fans are the lifeblood of any club. For me winning at home is about you as a player, us as a club, rewarding the fans for their faith in us and their willingness to support us. As a result of that, it should be a little easier getting points at home.”

But it hasn’t been easy for the Galaxy in recent years with the club setting a record low for points in a season at home in 2017 (14) and already off to a shaky start in 2018 with just six points out of a possible 15. The Galaxy will be looking to tie their 2017 record for home wins (3) by winning the Cali-Clasico. But after picking up two wins fairly quickly have now lost their last three home games (Sporting KC, Atlanta United, New York Red Bulls) by a combined scored of seven to two.

In fact, the club hasn’t had a home win since March 31 (winless in April) when they scored four second-half goals to overturn a 3-0 lead by Los Angeles Football Club — a span that will reach 56 days if the Galaxy can’t get the victory on Friday night.

And the Galaxy will be doing it without suspended striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic who received a red card in Monday’s victory. On the verge of being suspended is defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen who sits with four yellow cards on the season. If he picks up another one on Friday, he’ll miss the Galaxy’s matchup with FC Dallas on Wednesday (May 30, 7:30 PM).

Ashley Cole will return from his yellow card suspension for the game which should help secure a defense that was by no means impenetrable against the Impact. But that could force Schmid into making a decision about Emrah Klimenta or Dave Romney as the club continues to look for a right-back replacement for the injured Rolf Feltscher.

And the defense is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

“I think it’s just a matter of our defending being consistent,” Schmid told reporters about the game on Friday. “We said at halftime (Monday), even being down a man we feel we’ll find a goal somewhere but we just need to take care of things at the other end of the field. When we have all of our pieces on the field I think we can find more than one goal. We’ve shown that by scoring two goals on the road consecutively. It’s our defending that has to become more solid and more resolute.”

The Earthquakes will rely on leading goal-scorer Danny Hoesen who’s tallied six goals on the year while Swedish newcomer Magnus Eriksson will also pose some trouble for the Galaxy’s weakest of links – the defense.

Giovani dos Santos should be available for this match for the Galaxy after missing the previous two matches with a hamstring injury. Although a start for him seems unlikely. Especially as this will be the last game for himself and brother Jonathan dos Santos before they depart for Mexico’s National Team camp and ultimately before they head to Russian for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

And of course, all eyes will be on Galaxy striker Ola Kamara who has scored in four straight games making him the sixth Galaxy player to do that since 2010. However, another goal to extend that streak to five games would place him on the same level as Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane as the only Galaxy players to have scored in five consecutive games.

Kamara has five goals on the season and leads the team in that category. And he sits just three goals behind the league-leaders who have eight goals on the year.

Kamara will also be starting this game in his preferred position — as a number nine striker. And the Galaxy should return to a 4-5-1 formation — a formation the team seems built for — with a midfield of Romain Alessandrini, Perry Kitchen, Jonathan dos Santos, Sebastian Lletget, and perhaps Ema Boateng or Chris Pontius. With Giovani dos Santos probably being a late-game sub.

Regardless of the formation, the Galaxy will be looking to pick up a win. The Earthquakes are a struggling team that shouldn’t pose a serious threat to the Galaxy. But with any rivalry game, expectations should probably be thrown out the window.

“A lot of us have been around long enough to know it doesn’t necessarily matter where you’re at in June or July, it matters where you are in September, October,” Bingham said. “You see teams all the time start off hot and then at playoff time they’re either out of the playoffs or dead last. It’s really important to get on a streak from now on, and that’s what we’re looking to do.”

With a weakened Western Conference, the Galaxy aren’t out of anything at this point. But if they can’t consistently pick up points at home against teams they should beat, it will be a struggle to stay above the playoff line for the rest of the year.

Larry Morgan contributed greatly to this report.